Springfield churches unite against racial injustice

Local pastors address the crowd about the importance of stopping systemic racism and being part of the change

Several dozen gathered in the southside of Springfield Sunday afternoon before marching throughout the city in an effort to show unity against racial injustices occurring throughout the country.

The demonstration was organized and attended by local clergy members representing various congregations in the area. They were joined by members of law enforcement as well. The group met at South Gate Baptist Church on South Center Boulevard around 1 p.m. and then marched to Cornerstone Baptist Church on North Limestone Street.

“We want churches of all ethnicities to come together and speak out about the injustice that has been prevalent for centuries in this country,” said Ernest C. Brown Sr., the senior pastor at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Springfield.

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Brown, as well as other members of his church, were part of a larger group of clergy that helped organize and take part in the event. His church was one of several planned stops for marchers on Sunday.

The crowd was met by support from several motorists as they marched in the street as well as by several residents watching the demonstration from their homes. Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf and Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett were in attendance and showed support as the march stopped at a total of seven churches Sunday afternoon.

Local pastors addressed the crowd about the importance of addressing systemic racism as well as being part of the change. They said that the system needs to be reformed and changed in order to stop injustices from occurring.

Flyers handed out during the march stated an intent to demonstrate “our commitment to prayer and action for unity, peace, justice, harmony and love in the midst of racial and ethnic tensions.”

The flyer also stated that the goal was to also protest “unjust laws, policies and the resulting injustices demonstrated through racial profiling, unequal treatment under the law for minorities, discrimination and the senseless killing of African Americans in the streets.”

The march on Sunday followed a wave of protests that have occurred across the country calling for action against police brutality and systemic racism as well as advocating for racial equality in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Floyd was killed while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. His death has sparked a wave of protests across the nation, with some turning violent.

“We know God is love. We preach and teach that. But not all the time does it get translated to behavior. We want to move from talk to walk and make sure that we are demonstrating who we say we are,” Brown said.

Eli Williams, with Urban Light Ministries, told the crowd at one of its church stops on Sunday that “we must build upon a solid foundation, a foundation that will stand the test of time” when it comes to addressing these issues.

Local clergy members in Clark County announced this month that they are creating an advisory committee that aims to address and combat systemic racism while working with local law enforcement agencies.

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Both Brown and Williams are taking part in those conversations that include other pastors across various denominations as well as Chief Graf and Sheriff Burchett.

“Law enforcement is technically owned by taxpayers and so we think that taxpayers have every right to have input and influence on how policing is done in our community,” Brown said. “We are hoping to approach this in a positive way and to see positive outcomes.”

“They have done some good things and we certainly acknowledge that, but there is room for improvement in Springfield and we want to see that happen,” he added.

Burchett said during the march on Sunday that, “It is important for us to be involved because of the unity. We want to stay as unified with everyone in the community as we can.”

In terms of the creation of an advisory committee and the input that it would provide the Sheriff’s Office, Burchett said, “If the advisory committee feels that we are doing something wrong, then we need to change it.”

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